Orangeburg massacre: Overlooked Shooting on a Black College Campus in 1968


Survivors tell their stories:

 

 

The Orangeburg massacre was an incident on February 8, 1968, in which nine South Carolina Highway Patrol officers in Orangeburg, South Carolina, fired into an aggravated but unarmed mob protesting local segregation at a bowling alley, hitting most of them in their backs. Three men were killed and twenty-eight more injured. After the shooting stopped, two others were injured by police in the aftermath and one, a pregnant woman, later had a miscarriage due to the beating. The incident pre-dated the Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings.

Background

In the days leading up to February 8, 1968, about 200 mostly student protesters gathered on the campus of South Carolina State University in Orangeburg) to protest the segregation of the All Star Bowling Lane (now called All-Star Triangle Bowl), on US 301 (now SC 33). The bowling alley was owned by the late Harry K. Floyd.

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Conflict

That night, students threw firebombs, bricks and bottles and started a bonfire. As police attempted to put out the fire, an officer was injured by a thrown piece of banister. The police stated that they believed they were under attack by small arms fire. A newspaper report said “about 200 Negroes gathered and began sniping with what sounded like ‘at least one automatic, a shotgun and other small caliber weapons’ and throwing bricks and bottles at the patrolmen.” 

Protesters insisted that they did not fire at police officers, but did hurl various objects and insults at the police. Evidence that police were being fired upon at the time of the incident was inconclusive. While no evidence has been presented that protesters were armed or had fired on officers, a 1968 newspaper article reported that students threw firebombs at buildings and that the sound of apparent sniper fire was heard.

Officers fired into the crowd, killing three young men: Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith, both SCSU students, and Delano Middleton, a local student at Wilkinson High School. Twenty-eight others were wounded during the shooting or after in police abuse.

Aftermath

At a press conference the following day, Governor Robert E. McNair said the event was “…one of the saddest days in the history of South Carolina”.  McNair blamed the deaths on outside Black Power agitators.

At the trial, the first federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest, all nine defendants were acquitted. The activist Cleveland Sellers was the only person convicted and imprisoned (7 months) as a result of the incident. He represented the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was convicted of having incited the riot that preceded the shootings. In 1973 he wrote The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC. Twenty-five years later, Sellers was officially pardoned.

List of those involved

Highway Patrol personnel involved in the shooting

  • Patrol Lieutenant Jesse Alfred Spell, 45
  • Sgt. Henry Morrell Addy, 37
  • Sgt. Sidney C. Taylor, 43
  • Corporal Joseph Howard Lanier, 32
  • Corporal Norwood F. Bellamy, 50
  • Patrolman First Class John William Brown, 31
  • Patrolman First Class Colie Merle Metts, 36
  • Patrolman Allen Jerome Russell, 24
  • Patrolman Edward H. Moore, 30
  • Patrolman Robert Sanders, 44 – was not charged in the massacre, but reportedly later made self-incriminating statements about having shot some of the rioters.

 

Deaths

  • Samuel Hammond Jr., 18
  • Delano Herman Middleton, 17
  • Henry Ezekial Smith, 19

 

Injuries

  • Patrolman David Sheally – His being injured preceded police opening fire on the crowd
  • Cleveland Sellers, 23 – Was later arrested and convicted of starting the riot. Received a full pardon in 1993.
  • Herman Boller Jr., 19
  • Johnny Bookhart, 19
  • Thompson Braddy, 20
  • Bobby K. Burton, 22
  • Ernest Raymond Carson, 17
  • Robert Lee Davis Jr., 19
  • Albert Dawson, 18
  • Bobby Eaddy, 17
  • Herbert Gadson, 19
  • Samuel Grant, 19
  • Samuel Grate, 19
  • Joseph Hampton, 21
  • Charles W. Hildebrand, 19
  • Nathaniel Jenkins, 21
  • Thomas Kennerly, 21
  • Joseph Lambright, 21
  • Richard McPherson, 19
  • Harvey Lee Miller, 15
  • Harold Riley, 20
  • Ernest Shuler, 16
  • Jordan Simmons III, 21
  • Ronald Smith, 19
  • Frankie Thomas, 18
  • Robert Watson, 19
  • Robert Lee Williams, 19
  • Savannah Williams, 19
  • John Carson – was beaten by highway patrol after he started questioning their involvement.
  • Louise Kelly Cawley, 27 – A pregnant woman, Louise was beaten and sprayed in the face with a chemical by policemen while trying to take the injured to the hospital. The beating was so severe that she had a miscarriage a week later.
  • John H. Elliot – was added to the list of those injured in the shooting on the 40th anniversary. Elliot said he was shot in the stomach the night of the massacre but did not go to the hospital for treatment.

Media coverage

The shootings at Orangeburg predated the Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings. This was the first incident of its kind on a United States university campus. The Orangeburg massacre received relatively little media coverage.

Historian Jack Bass attributed the discrepancy in media coverage, compared to that for later events, to the fact that the victims at Orangeburg were young black men protesting localsegregation.  In addition, the shootings at Orangeburg happened at night, when media coverage was less.  At Kent State, in contrast, the victims were young whites protesting an increasingly unpopular and highly politicized U.S. war in Vietnam. They were attacked by members of the National Guard, which the media may have judged a more inflammatory aspect of the shootings. Other analysts have noted that later events in 1968, such as the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and candidate Robert Kennedy, and the Tet Offensiveovershadowed the events at Orangeburg.

 

Tributes

South Carolina State University’s gymnasium is named in memory of the three men. A monument was erected on campus in their honor and the site has been marked. All-Star Triangle Bowl was integrated. The Floyd family has maintained ownership and operation of the business.

In 2001 Governor Jim Hodges was the first governor to attend the university’s annual memorial of the event. That same year, on the 33rd anniversary of the killings, eight survivors told their stories at a memorial service. Robert Lee Davis told an interviewer,

“One thing I can say is that I’m glad you all are letting us do the talking, the ones that were actually involved, instead of outsiders that weren’t there, to tell you exactly what happened.”

The state general assembly recently passed a resolution recommending that February 8 be a day of remembrance for the students killed and wounded in the protest

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orangeburg_massacre


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